I think it was in 1972 when Fidel Castro came to Mostaganem , Algeria where I was working at that time. The whole town had showed up to welcome him and the Algerian president Boumedienne. There were barricades and policemen controlling the crowd. The town had been scrubbed clean before they arrived in their black DS limos flanked by the guards both Cuban and Algerian but I was determined to take a few photos of my hero so I got through the barricades and approached the presidential limo and took a few snap shots while Fidel looked but not at me. He had his trademark cigar and his beard was black and thick. People were aghast because I took such a risk of approaching the car to take photos. The policemen in Algeria are trained so shoot first and ask questions later.These were the praetorian guards who fiercely protected Fidel and Boumedienne. CIA had tried to assassinate Fidel a number of times because USA considered him their avowed enemy but Fidel not only survived such attempts but thrived at poking fun at the US government.
Elsewhere in the world he was welcome as a hero who boldly stood up to defend the poor and the downtrodden from imperialism and colonialism. In Mostaganem the Algerian government had built a nice hospital with the Cuban assistance where Cuban doctors and nurses worked and trained their counterparts so Fidel Castro was invited to inaugurate the hospital. The Cubans lived near my apartment and played baseball but they spoke no French or English and I spoke no Spanish so I never got to know them.
I always admired Fidel and Che Guevara and painted Che ,framed it and put it on the wall here but I never painted Fidel because I felt that he was so much larger than life that a mere painting by an amateur like me would not do justice to him.
Yesterday he died at the age of 90 after living such an illustrious life but judging from the street dancers in the little Havana in Miami one would think that he was such a villain. This requires the study of the Cuban revolution and why it happened and most of all why it succeeded.
If you watch the movie The Godfather , you will understand the role mafia played in Cuba in sucking the lifeblood out of that poor country and how they made enormous profit with the full collusion of the corrupt government prevailing at that time. People danced and attended lavish parties drinking and cavorting with prostitutes while the Cubans starved and looked on helplessly. The precious land was owned by a few rich people who let the landless farmers work their land to make the patrons rich but they themselves remained poor and destitute.
The education was limited to a few upper class people and many went to the United States for their education because they could afford it. The vast majority of Cubans remained uneducated by design because the rich thought that it was easy to control the uneducated people and make them do their bidding but the resentment was growing nationwide and was waiting for an outlet.
That outlet was provided by Fidel and his loyal friends in arms one day when they returned from their exile and started the fire of revolution that still burns today.
People started coming from everywhere and joined his group of revolutionaries in large numbers because they saw that a charismatic leader like Fidel was what they needed to make the revolution a success. The rest is history. The corrupt president and his cohorts fled the country along with their loot and many rich people did the same because they realized that there was no future for them in the new Cuba. The mafia had to flee and shut down all their operations but resented it greatly and plotted to overthrow the new government of Castro.
The US government always considers it the national interest to protect the US businesses and their property no matter how much the Cubans were exploited in the process so sent in the mercenaries recruited from the disgruntled Cubans of Miami but the invasion called the Bay of Pigs invasion failed miserably. Most of the invaders were captured and executed by the Cuban government making the USA angrier so they tried to assassinate Fidel a number of times and killed Che Guevara in Bolivia where he was sent to fight for the poor landless peasants there.
The US government then imposed trade sanctions on Cuba that has not yet been lifted after 50 years or so and has had its intended effect on their economy but to everyone’s surprise, the Cuban revolution succeeded in doing what it had promised its people in spite of tremendous odds. It distributed the land to the landless farmers, gave the opportunity to everyone to become literate and created the world’s most successful universal healthcare that the whole world except the United States admires.
When a group of sick Americans arrived in Guantanamo base to get some medical help from the base doctors, they were chased off by the gun toting soldiers .It was a US base and they were chasing off poor and sick Americans who wanted their help because they could not afford the high cost of healthcare in their own country. So they reached Havana and asked people if they could direct them to a hospital nearby. Cubans are a very warm and hospitable people so they brought them to a hospital where the doctors attended to them immediately without asking for anything from them. The Americans were pleasantly surprised at their welcome and at the spanking clean modern hospital where the doctors and nurses were competent and professional. They were brainwashed in the US to believe otherwise.
They were treated without any charge except for a small bill of few dollars for some medicines that were generic and were given generous gifts before they were discharged. The Americans could not believe their good luck and were in tears. Michael Moore has made a movie about it which people should watch.
But the propaganda against the Cuban revolution and Castro continues to this day although one must admire Obama for making the diplomatic connection again and opening up travel and trade between these two countries .It is a small beginning but in the right direction.
It took great courage and sacrifice by Fidel and his revolutionaries to make Cuba great again , get rid of corruption, give hope to its people, develop the infrastructure and build schools, hospitals, housing for the poor and empty its jails by sending the criminals to Miami where they are creating problems. It was a brilliant strategy. Cuba now stands tall among the League of Nations and sends medical missions and builds hospitals in numerous countries like in Algeria, Angola etc. and develops its trade ties with many countries. It is a beautiful island that is not too far from Haiti where I worked for some time but never had a chance to visit.
Cuba has earned its status as the model of the most pro poor country where the government looks after the basic needs of its people in a way that is the envy of the world. Fidel and Che will always remain my heroes.